The evaluation of the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) in 1997 brought significant changes to the institute. The most significant change was to separate the DIE from the legal entity of the German Adult Education Association (DVV) and turn in into an autonomous legal institution. As a result, the DIE became a research institute and assumed a neutral role in the pluralistic providers field.
With this new status, the institute searched for a format to develop the interactive mediation between research and practice. Mediation was not regarded as a one-way street (research findings for practice, as in publications), but as a dialogue and critical debate. The research-practice dialogue was aimed at finding topics, contemplating practical problems, discussing research findings, intensifying current debates, pointing out opposing tendencies, and establishing new topics. It was essential to bring both research and educational practice and politics together for discussion.
A conference form was required to bring stakeholders from adult education research, practice and politics together . The conference form needed to include academic input as well as well-reflected practical contributions, and it needed to aim at perspectives and activities (as learning is always connected to actions). This basically provided both the frame for the DIE forum and the name. "Forum" includes openess, publicity, transparency, as well as quality and accessibility. People with different interests and experiences meet in a forum to exchange opinions and gain common perspectives. This idea was the guiding principle. The basic parameters included contents and topics, a mixture of input and discussion, impulse character, continuity, participation, as well as the direction of research, practice and politics (regarded to be a part of practice).
This concept was broken down into a suitable conference format: a fixed date for schedule and planning reliability. The participants were and are essential for the Forum. Based on the topic, three groups compose the forum programme: acknowledged experts, as well as well-reflected and communicative practitioners (including political representatives) and DIE employees. Such a "composition" of stakeholders can only be achieved by an institute, which is established in both research and practice, has the requested skills and is widely accepted.
The key elements of topic, objective and message were substantial parts for developint the forum concept. They were intended to be based on specific development (mostly in practice) and debates (mostly in research). Developments were to be reflected, academic findings to be reviewed, insights deepened and contrasts (particulary in trend topics) explained. Within the communication between research and practice, perspectives for further research and future developments were to be pointed out. The Forum was meant to create future-oriented findings for the use of research and practice.
From the very beginning, the Forum was intended to be a networking conference. A network of research and practice - compatible with practice and debate. But also a network enabled by DIE activities. The presentation of the Innovation Prize for Continuing Education was combined with the DIE Forum for organisational and content-related reasons, thus increasing its attraction and range. For many years, the December issue of the DIE Journal on Adult Education was dedicated to the Forum's topic and used as a conference document. Poltical activities and programmes were to be included in the choice of topic. In particular, the DIE Forum was to be connected to current DIE research.
Overall, communication between research and practice was intensified, especially through personal contacts and work relations. Also, the difficulty of enforcing the discursive element of the concept with regard to existing structures of research-oriented lecture events became apparent. This might be based on the fact that research - in contrast to practice - only works through communication. Even though the Forum's approach might be contrary, it cannot change the facts.
Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Nuissl (Senior Professor at the University of Florence and at the University of Kaiserslautern, Scientific Director at the DIE between 1991 and 2011)